Most Chuck Palahniuk fans fall in love with Fight Club first. For me, however, his hilarious and horrifying novel Rant hooked me as a true fan. Carloads of young people in clown suits drive around looking for other clowns to bash, all in the hopes of experiencing the kind of car crash that lifts you out of your humdrum little life, or perhaps even your space-time continuum. Throw in a wicked case of rabies, a sex tornado and a goth dystopia for a book that sticks in brains of readers brave enough to read to the last. Whew!
While the plot captivates on its own, Palahniuk’s powerful, rhythmic prose and clever story structure provide the true literary narcotic.
So imagine my squee of glee upon seeing Palahniuk’s newly published book on writing advice Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life after Which Everything Was Different.
Consider This envisions the reader as an aspiring writer, trespassing Palahniuk’s porch in search of authorly wisdom. Palahniuk generously shares writing advice, as well as juicy gossip and unexpected anecdotes about the life of a famous writer.
I used up a small stack of post-it notes tagging the pages containing lessons worth revisiting. One particular guideline Palahniuk follows illuminates the strength of his language.
“You may not dictate emotions. Your job is to create the situation that generates the desired emotion in your reader.”Chuck Palahniuk
How might one do this? By avoiding abstract verbs in favor of concrete verbs. Palahniuk explains that concrete (or active) verbs like “step” or “kick” activate the part of the reader’s brain responsible for that movement. Your brain responds as though you are the one running, or sneezing, or punching.
Abstract verbs such as “love” or “remember” fail to elicit the same cognitive mirroring. As well, passive verbs blunt the impact of your words. Avoid “is” and “has” in any form.
Sound like something your English teacher told you years ago? Sometimes, we need to hear the same instruction time and time again before it crosses the stubborn boundaries of old habit and becomes a new skill. George Orwell shared similar advice years ago, “Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out always cut it out. Never use the passive voice where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
Oh, and one more priceless piece of advice from Mr. Palahniuk… No one wants to hear about your dreams. Not even Carl Jung, unless you’re paying him $150 an hour, and even then he’s faking his interest. No dreams!
Want more? Support an author you admire and buy Consider This on Amazon.